Is the Bible open to the perspective of the person reading it?

By Blogger Dr. Karin Heller

Dear Karin,

This class has prompted me to question many things about my faith and the things I have been taught to believe about God and the Bible (all good things), so I would appreciate hearing your perspective on a certain topic.  

Is there a right or wrong way to understand God’s teachings in the Bible, or is it open to the perspective of the person reading it — not as a means to manipulate the word, but to help provide the answers we seek?

– Carla

Dear Carla,

Dr. Karin Heller

There are two major ways to read the Bible. The first is a prayerful reading alone, seeking for guidance, consolation, awe, and so forth — exactly what you describe. The second is a reading of the Bible in community, a church community, a family, a Bible study group or other association. The reading in community confronts us with different interpretations than ours. This kind of reading enriches our perspectives and corrects our interpretations. Reading in community makes us dive deeper into the various aspects of God’s word.

Both readings are excellent and should be fostered. We should never do one without the other. We can also read comments on certain biblical texts stemming from the great tradition of the church or contemporary people writing commentaries. The Word of God is never expressed by a single voice, but the single voice is still. God’s revelation occurs through an interaction between three factors — the text, the author of the text and the reader or the readers. The book alone is not enough for God’s revelation to occur! The text has to be read and a dialogue with the author of the text has to be engaged. When this is done correctly there is no manipulation of God’s word, only seeing God’s truth reveal itself in an increasing way throughout Church history. That’s what we call in the Catholic Church the “tradition of the church.” It’s an interpretation of Scripture throughout the centuries.

The biblical text is always open to new interpretations. There is not only one authoritative interpretation of the text. Through  Scripture God speaks anew to every generation!

– Karin

Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years.  Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.


One response to “Is the Bible open to the perspective of the person reading it?

  1. John VanDerWalker

    This is not really a question but rather a comment. I appreciate the short explanation of how the Bible is read, and I especially like the statement concerning that it must be read in community. I would suggest that the community is more than a church community or a Bible study group, and that it extends beyond time backward to those who have (like Dr. Heller) committed a life time to study and then written about it. The cloud of witnesses concern the Holy Script is large and extends beyond our local and personal interactions. So I would suggest that extra-biblical texts are a very import member of the community.

    Finally, the revelation of God in Scripture is not in the words, it is rather in the hearing of the words combined with a personal spirit open to the impress of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a community (as described above by Dr. Heller) who are willing to hear God’s Word, or receive God’s revelation.
    I submit this humbly.

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